Above ground cistern vs below ground cistern, which do you prefer?
Curious who has an above ground cistern and who has a below ground cistern. Which do you prefer and why? Did you install yourself or did you have someone install for you and if so, which company did you go through? Any information based on personal experiences shared here would be greatly appreciated! And if you have one but prefer the other could you please explain why?
Little Miss Sunrise 🌅
I would think it depends entirely on the site and the amount of earth moving possible or necessary.
My cistern is above ground --it comprises Half of the foundation of the house and the other half of the foundation is a 1 bdrm apt.
Being able to inspect all 4 sides of the cistern is an advantage in maintenance.
Since we have hurricanes most house foundations are built with reinforced concrete and cisterns are incorporated into the foundation of the house. Usually part underground, part above ground depending on lot topology and size of cistern. Small tank cisterns are above ground.
Thank you Exit Zero and Scubadoo for your feedback~I didn’t realize they could be incorporated into part of the foundation as well as be partially above ground depending on the size. From what I have been reading I should be adding roughly about $10,000 to add an average sized cistern to the house build~does this sound about right to either of you? I sure hope that includes the digging for it and completed before finishing the build. We don’t plan to build more than 1000-1200 square foot 1 level home. Having plenty of water is important to us as I remember having cistern filled while renting was costly in STT 19 years ago and can only imagine it being quite a bit more spendy now. If anyone has any good links with more information for schematics and pricing specifically cisterns in the USVI better yet STX I would greatly appreciate it 😁
The costs can vary depending on the site and the size of the cistern but from asking around over the years it seems that it typically costs around $50k to have the earthwork, cistern and foundation in place for an average sized home on a moderately sloped lot. You might be able to buy and ship a 10,000 gallon plastic tank here for $10k but it may or may not meet building code requirements. Lots of concrete/form carpenters are billing around $50/hr these days, with helpers in the $20+/- range so unless you are doing the work yourself, even a small crew can easily run $3-5k per week in labor costs alone. Now add earthwork equipment rental, form rental, and materials over a few weeks and the costs add up pretty quickly. The good news is that depending on how much you have already budgeted for portions of the rest of your project that may allow some overlap with the cistern construction (earthwork, foundation, plumbing, etc) you may still be able to add a cistern without breaking the overall budget. Good luck.
If you are building a new home I highly suggest you work with a local licensed architect. Most new masonry/concrete homes incorporate the cistern(s) into the foundation of the home as Exit Zero and Scubadoo stated. You will want to work with a locally licensed contractor as well when it comes time to build.
I have an older wooden home and have the plastic tank style cisterns. They cost about $1 per gallon for the size. I have two right now, 1000 gallons and 500 gallons. They aren't the prettiest things to look at that's for sure. And one of them tends to get a lot of frogs. We lost the two we had in the last storm, one by a falling branch, and the other (fiberglass) was just so beat up that it became very weak.
So I'm going to vote for concrete cistern if it works for your site and your budget.
I would say that 95% of homes here have concrete cisterns built [at least partially] above ground and incorporated as part of the foundation.
Remember they are filled by roof area rainfall collection -- your roof area is an important part of the equation here. Pressure water is then supplied to the house by what in the plumbing world is called 'a shallow well' system.
Your $10k question sounds very naïve if you are seriously researching building a house in the USVI, any contractor or architectural firm here can give you a much more realistic estimation of building costs, site preparation cost is wholly dependent on the amount of clearing, earth moving, retaining wall needs and access road plan. STX generally has flatter homesites than STT. It is a wonderful dream to build a home here and worth the frustration and cost for many people --personally doing as much as possible of the work and supervision on site is the only way to hold costs down, good labor planning, good material buying, thoughtful site selection and practical house plans are equally important, IMHO.
There is no financial advantage in building a cheap basic livable structure here unless you consider it a Caribbean campsite for occasional use and expendable in a storm.
Labor costs used to be cheaper than the states here, but not after Maria. If you go cheap at any point during construction, I guarantee you will regret it.
Having rode out Maria myself in my own home, I can honestly say how thankful I was to have listened to my architect and contractor. Cast, steel reinforced cement and hurricane rated doors and windows are the only way to go. Don’t go more than 2’ between roof rafters, and use 3” thick beams instead of 2”. My neighbor 100 yards away, lost 3/4 of his roof. With my homes heavier construction, and Gods blessing, I didn’t even loose any gutters.
In regards to cisterns, consider this: During monster storms like Hugo and Maria, when roofs tore off and walls caved in, people dove into their cisterns to save their own lives. It was the only parts of their homes that didn’t fly away. Cisterns are generally the strongest part of any home here.
The best advice I can give you is forget about going the cheap route. Whatever your saving by building with wood or converting a shipping container into a residence will cost you more in home owners insurance over the long haul.
Yea, Windstorm Insurace... wait till you see those figures!!!
Interesting reading here about building homes to withstand hurricanes, esp the part about traditional construction and how it fared in Hugo. (Of course, any strengthened codes post-Hugo were then modified after Hurricane Andrew, and then again after Maria I believe?)
Thank you so much, everyone! Good news~we do not plan to cut any corners when it comes to building~safety and being kind to the environment are top priority in the entire build at whatever the cost. Building something that will last long term is important to us for countless reasons. Better to pay to have something done proper the first time and hope for the best. We don’t need/want a house larger than 1200 square feet so but will take into consideration building a wrap around deck/patio space to gain more roof square footage to collect more rainwater for the cistern 😁
Really hate to be a Debbie Downer, but...
Wrap around porches (overhangs) are a big no no in the Caribbean. Unsecured overhangs are the first thing to let go during a hurricane. When they lift, they generally pull the rest of the roof off with them.
Roof rafters need to be tied into a bond beam. I had no idea what a bond beam was before I got here. Every roof rafter needs to be drilled out for at least 2 lengths of rebar (steel rods). The rebar runs through each roof rafter where it sits upon the wall, and then they tie in together at each corner. Wooden forms are screwed into both interior side and exterior side of the 8” wall tops (between the roof rafters) then cement gets poured into the forms. When completed, the end of each roof rafter is sealed into the wall by both steel bars (rebar) and cement. Roofs generally do not extend beyond exterior walls.
Oh... and as far as being kind to the environment. We’ve also got some really aggressive insects here. One breed of termite even eats through cement. I’ll just say, keeping bugs under control is a challenge here. We tried being eco-friendly, but the first night I stepped on a 6” centipede while walking blindly down a dark hallway, all bets were off. If there was a thermonuclear device available for insects, I’d be the first one in line to get one.
It's true the unsupported overhangs are a no-no and houses typically have little to no overhang. But that doesn't mean we don't have covered galleries (porches.) The roofs just need to be built and secured properly to outside columns.
Scubadoo is correct. We do have outside, covered decks/galleries, and the columns are tied into bond beams that are directly tied into the roof rafters.
I have a covered patio myself between three separate pods (independently built rooms/structures connected by the patio area). The open patio is about 26’x14’ but the flat roof over it is 6” thick, steel reinforced cement (with bond beams). Each pod has wooden roof rafters tied in to bond beams as previously described.
Shady areas make a huge difference here.
These are al great points made here and never apologize for being a Debbie Downer~I cannot tell you how truly grateful I am of any and all feedback. Knowing the right things to be making note of and other things to be properly researching and incorporating into planning is wonderful. A very secure porch/patio area with proper beams and such is super important.
We understand there are lots of bugs~being born and raised in Minnesota I grew up with all sorts of bugs. Living in California I feel quite spoiled to be able to leave a sliding glass door open for hours without a worry in the world but do know in the Caribbean I will certainly need to keep an eye out for little creepy crawlies regardless how careful I am with monitoring doors being shut and such. I have spent time in Costa Rica, Brasil and India for several months at a time so I am sort of used to bugs with the hot weather~I don’t love them~but I will try my best to tolerate them (fingers crossed)
I really appreciate the feedback from everyone with details of securing a safe and sturdy porch. Pretty crazy some those bugs eat concrete~that is a bummer but very glad to know it happens~is there a good company that can do inspections for the concrete being eaten or is it pretty obvious you can see it occurring like you can with termites with wood?
If your buying an existing structure, I’d definitely suggest an inspection by a licensed exterminator. I’m sure there’s more critters I’m not familiar with that can cause all sorts of problems. I would hope whoever you use for a realtor would suggest the same.